The Associated Press today offers "a more sober picture" than it and other news organizations (including NPR) did earlier this month regarding reports of nearly 800 bodies of infants and young children at a former Catholic home for unwed mothers in Ireland.
The case of the "mother and baby home," located in the town of Tuam near Galway city, "offers a study in how exaggeration can multiply in the news media, embellishing occurrences that should have been gripping enough on their own," the AP writes.
The reports were based on research by Catherine Corless, who spent years seeking records of the deaths of children at the orphanage during the years it was open, from 1925 to 1961.
Specifically, the AP points to an investigation by The Irish Times in Dublin that revealed discrepancies in maps used by Corless to determine where the bodies might have ended up. It also said reports that many of the children had never been baptized were rebutted by records. Other evidence called into question whether the decommissioned septic tank could have been used as a burial site, the AP said.
The newspaper also questioned implications that many of the children died of malnutrition. The AP says: "The most common causes were flu, measles, pneumonia, tuberculosis and whooping cough. Contrary to the allegations of widespread starvation highlighted in some reports, only 18 children were recorded as suffering from severe malnutrition."
The AP reports:
"When Corless published her findings on a Facebook campaign page, and Irish media noticed, she speculated to reporters that the resting place of most, if not all, could be inside a disused septic tank on the site. By the time Irish and British tabloids went to print in early June, that speculation had become a certainty, the word 'disused' had disappeared, and U.S. newspapers picked up the report, inserting more errors, including one that claimed the researcher had found all 796 remains in a septic tank."
"The Associated Press was among the media organizations that covered Corless and her findings, repeating incorrect Irish news reports that suggested the babies who died had never been baptized and that Catholic Church teaching guided priests not to baptize the babies of unwed mothers or give to them Christian burials."
"The reports of denial of baptism later were contradicted by the Tuam Archdiocese, which found a registry showing that the home had baptized more than 2,000 babies. The AP issued a corrective story on Friday after discovering its errors."